Rev Irene Monroe

By backing Obama, Oprah leaves queers behind

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | September 11, 2007 9:05 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, race

Queen of daytime talk Oprah Winfrey is omnipresent and omnipotent. Her monthly oracle — O, The Oprah Magazine — pontificates the principles of self-help, self-love, and self-giving. Her image floods newsstands. Bookstores stockpile their inventory with her choice for the book of the month. And presidential hopefuls genuflect before her to win voters.

In exhorting America to rise to its higher moral ground, Oprah has not only altered the content of TV talk, but also drastically changed the venue in which spirituality is normally discussed.

Now for the first time, the media magnate is involved in politics. And Oprah’s partisan big bucks threw a star-studded fundraiser for her presidential pick, Barack Obama. And with 1,500 guests at her sold-out private soirée at $2,300 apiece, Oprah’s endorsement of Obama might very well buy him the election.

But her “chosen one” is a candidate who would unquestionably deny lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans their full and equal civil rights, especially when it comes to same-sex marriage.

“I am somebody who has not embraced gay marriage. I’ve said that it’s not something that I think the society is necessarily ready for. And it strikes me that in a lot of ways for a lot a people, it may intrude in how they understand marriage,” Obama stated on CNN's “Larry King Live” in late 2006.

But nearly a year later, and after being given much more information and education about the essential need to afford LGBTQ Americans their full and equal marriage rights, his position is unchanged.

And as the beneficiary of the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in the case of Loving v. Virginia — a decision that allowed Obama’s parents to legally marry — he doesn’t see civil unions as reminiscent of this nation’s shameful era of “separate but equal.”

"As I proposed [civil unions], it wouldn't be a lesser thing [than marriage] from my perspective," Barack said during the much-ballyhooed HRC-Logo debate last month.

While it is true that none of the Democratic presidential frontrunners support same-sex marriage, Oprah must be asked: Would she endorse a presidential candidate who would give African Americans and women what Obama is proposing for LGBTQ Americans?

And as she tries to take America down an enlightened path in this presidential campaign, is Oprah’s endorsement of Obama more about being an instrument of racial equality in this country, by finally getting a black man elected to the highest office in this nation, than it is about the annoying and politically divisive issue of marriage equality for LGBTQ people? Is Oprah choosing, like many African-Americans ministers have done, which issue is more important for our black communities?

Ironically, LGBTQ people of African descent is a segment of the American population that has the most to gain from marriage equality.

But, you ask, is Oprah really homophobic? Clearly she’s neither a stranger to advocating for queer civil rights nor avoiding queer accusations.

In the April 1997 coming-out episode of Ellen Degeneres’ sitcom, Oprah played Ellen’s supportive therapist. And when Rosie O’Donnell on “The View” stated that Oprah’s longtime gal-pal Gayle and her were like a married lesbian couple, Oprah said to her magazine readers, “If we were gay, we would tell you.”

But would Oprah abandon her LGBTQ African-American brothers and sisters to elect a black man as president?

Unfortunately, civil rights struggles in this country have primarily been understood, reported on and advocated within the context of African-American struggles against both individual and systematic racism. Consequently, civil rights struggles of women, LGBTQ people, Native Americans and other minorities in this country have been eclipsed, ignored and even trivialized at the expense of educating the American public to other forms of existing oppressions.

At the height of the second wave of the women’s movement in the 1970's, for example, women’s civil rights were pitted against African-American civil rights, often forcing African-American women to choose which was a greater oppression for them — being black or being female. And it was black women who had the most to lose from this forced dichotomy.

Today, a similar debate is brewing between African-American and LGBTQ communities, which once again leaves out a population of people who have the most to lose — LGBTQ people of African descent.
The present-day debate between the two communities concerning what constitutes a legitimate civil rights issue — and what oppressed group owns the right to use the term — is both fueled and ignored by systemic efforts by our government and black ministers. They deliberately pit both groups against each other by blurring the lines of church and state rather than uphold the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution affording each of these marginal groups their inalienable rights.

With mostly African-American marquee celebs in attendance at Oprah’s Obama bash — like Stevie Wonder Sidney Poitier, Forest Whitaker, Chris Rock, Dennis Haysbert, Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and Halle Berry — Oprah is hoping for the black elite to put Obama in office. But that’s at the expense of not including the entire black community — its poor and LGBTQ members — let alone the rest of America.

“Four decades later, there are now two black Americas. The fat, rich, and comfortable black America of Oprah Winfrey, Robert Johnson, Bill Cosby, Condoleezza Rice, Denzel Washington and the legions of millionaire black athletes and entertainers, businesspersons and professionals. They have grabbed a big slice of America's pie,” wrote Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst and social issues commentator, on the Huffington Post back in January.

But the elites are the folks Obama goes after, albeit he calls himself a grassroots organizer and the voice for the poor and marginalized. David Mendell, an Obama biographer, told "Obama is very adept at selling himself to people of the black elite. And so, in the last year or so, he has sat down with [Oprah] and they have struck up this relationship."

Oprah talked to United Press International about why she held the fundraiser at her home. “I call my home the Promised Land because I get to live Dr. King’s Dream. I haven’t been actively engaged before because there hasn’t been anything to be actively engaged in. But I am engaged now to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States.”

Oprah has good intentions as she tries to lead America down the high road. However, that reminds me of the old adage, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." For LGBTQ people not included on the Obama road to the White House, it is hell nonetheless.

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The only problem we face as a community though, is who could she have supported? Her options are rather limited to Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel - neither of whom would win the election. Don't get me wrong, I love Dennis and wish he could win, but out of the top 3 I think Oprah nailed the person she should be supporting. After all, Oprah doesn't look like a Clinton flunkie and, well, Edwards? Nah.

I forgot to add... I'd be a little worried if I were Obama. Oprah's not used to the give and take of politics and the nuances necessary. Look what happened to the author she built up only to find out he'd fibbed. She ripped his ass right back down and now no one will buy a book from him. What happens when Obama pisses her off? Does she remove her stamp of approval in a tiff?

I don't think that'll be much of a problem, Bil. Especially since look at the other shams she's supported all these years - Dr. Phil, most notably - it seems once she's invested in them, she sticks by them. Or maybe she still likes Dr. Phil, who knows.

but it would have been interesting to have seen her apply some pressure to Mr. Obama to change his views. I get the feeling, and maybe it's based on nothing, that his position on marriage is one of political convenience. She could be changing that....

Either way, he is the only one of the three front-runners who didn't vote for the Iraq War. Whether he would have or not had he the chance is another question; fact is he didn't.

Thank you. Rev. Monroe, for having the courage to challenge someone so many consider a saint. She has done a great deal of good, but how much of that is negated by how much she has cultivated consumerism and looksism? Too bad Mrs. King apparently never pulled her aside and said, “Oprah, the dream my husband was assassinated for, that the two of us sacrificed so much for, had little to do with living in a multimillion dollar Bel Aire mansion.”

And Oprah’s statement, “there hasn’t been anything to be actively engaged in,” boggles the imagination! Just because she’s been waiting for a Messiah doesn’t mean she couldn’t have been affecting politics in a positive way in the meantime. On the otherhand, she seems to have forgotten that she gave millions in free publicity (and a de facto endorsement) to Bush Lite Arnold Schwarzenegger by having him and Maria on when he was running for California governor.

As for her influence on Obama’s campaign, Oprah has not consistently had the ability to turn everything she touches into gold. He beloved “Beloved” lost around $60 million despite the fact that she appeared in it, promoted it endlessly on her show, and it was made from a Pulitzer-winning book.

And I’m sick of the myth that she is Miss Gay Friendly. Why does she feel the need to ever, let alone repeatedly, deny she’s gay? She still serves up finally out Nate Berkus, her personal Pocket Gay, to her audience as if he were straight hottie catnip. (Her much-praised show with him after his “partner” was killed in the tsunami never once used the word “gay” or “lover.”)

When it was peaking as the most talked about, most critically acclaimed film in a decade, she could only spare 25 minutes to the cast of “Brokeback Mountain,” devoting the other half to Tyler Perry’s tired drag character. I guess “Ennis” and “Jack” were just too nonstereotypical for her, but, hey, a huge black guy in a dress and Oprah’s rolling on the floor laughing her rich ass off. Before cutting to Perry, she did, of course, take time to ask the actors if they were “nervous” about kissing each other.

Whenever she has a woman on who’s been involved with a gay man, like McGreevey’s wife, she ALWAYS asks, “but couldn’t you tell he was gay?” Will gaydometers been on sale in her magazine soon? She made a star out of the loathsome author of the book on the down low while allowing him to reinforce some of the most hateful myths about gay men still around. Recently she had on some pro football player who was publicly talking about being molested as a boy. The one point in the show she teared up was when a therapist kept assuring him, “You did nothing wrong. You’re still a MAN!” as if any kind of same sex behavior might make him any different, something “less than.” Then there’s the question she always repeats during the rare instances when the subject of gay oppression/discrimination is allowed on, “Do gay people STILL have problems?”

On the other hand, the show she did about transgender children was one of the most insightful and sensitive I’ve ever seen (versus her Pocket Doctor Phil who is homophobic AND transphobic). But when it comes to “gay,” don’t look for Miss O to be raising anyone’s consciousness about marriage equality let alone Sen. Obama.

I confess, I disagree with this post almost entirely. Obama is a politician; politicians must get elected; support for full same-sex marriage currently polls at somewhere around 32%. It is simply political reality that he can't embrace same-sex marriage just yet, not if he wants to get elected (and I want him to get elected!); but I think it is truly extraordinary that, a mere dozen years after the subject of same-sex marriage was introduced to the national debate, ALL of the Democrats support granting same-sex couples all of the rights of marriage. This is especially remarkable in contrast to the Republicans, none of whom support granting us any rights (at least when push comes to shove), and many of whom support sodomy laws that would make us all sexual offenders and put us in prison.

In other words, the choice could not be more stark in this next election, or the stakes higher. On one hand, I appreciate the passion of those who insist that all candidates running in all areas of the country support full marriage rights now, immediately, no equivocation, compromise. But it's naive, and, frankly, it's impractical and counter-productive. And if Martin Luther King Jr. was anything, he was very, very, very, VERY practical, understanding that the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good, that political change is blisteringly hard work, and that compromise and even incremental change are important steps on the way to full equality.

In the grand scheme of things, we've been debating same-sex marriage for a nano-second--and we've already made incredible progress. I wish the folks who are so impatient with the rate of change would remember that the term "domestic partnership" wasn't coined until 1981. "Civil union" came about in 1992!

One more thought. The worse thing that could happen right now would be a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. If the Democrats pushed full marrige through right now, that could very happen--and we'd be paying the price for decades to come (because such amendments are almost impossible to overturn).

Ms. Monroe, I think you take it for granted that Oprah Winfrey is straight. What on earth is your evidence- the usual supermarket poop with her and Stedman on the cover in staged nuzzling at exotic locales? I don't buy it, and when you look at Oprah's endoresment of a homophobe from the perspective of her being a lesbian, well, it's quite different.